Evaluating the effect of a virtual simulator on teaching communication skills

M.J. van der Smagt, Jutta de Jong, R.C. IJntema, J.T. Jeuring, Michiel H Hulsbergen

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For many professions, the ability to communicate (vocally) is an essential skill. Training, for instance, professional-client communication is labour intensive however, as it often involves one-on-one interactions with a skilled trainer or actor. To improve teaching communication, a virtual simulator called Communicate! was developed by Utrecht University1. In Communicate!, a student plays a scenario and holds a consultation with a virtual character. Teachers can build scenarios and apply specific scenarios to be used as practice for students or even as assessment method. We wondered if the use of Communicate! can be an effective aid to study communication skills in several operationalisations of learning outcomes. For this abstract we focus on acquiring theoretical knowledge about communication techniques.We devised two experiments (n = 128 and 133, a year apart) where the use of Communicate! was compared to more traditional learning tools, such as literature study and a lecture, in an undergraduate psychology communication-skills course. In both experiments (optional for the students in the course) we used a randomised controlled trial approach. Students in the course were divided in four groups, two of which both read an article about giving bad news in a dialogue and played a bad-news-dialogue-scenario (but in different order), while the third group only played the scenario. In the first experiment the final group only read the article, in the second experiment the final group read the article and listened to a lecture on bad news dialogues. The outcome measure we present here was performance on a multiple-choice test (about the theoretical underpinnings of this type of dialogue) administered at the end of the session.In both experiments playing both the scenario and reading the article resulted in better performance on the multiple-choice test (on communication skills) than reading the article alone, an effect mimicked by replacing the scenario by the lecture. This is surprising, given that Communicate! was designed for practising skills, not acquiring theoretical knowledge.Our results show that educational interventions such as the one presented here can have unexpected effects on student learning, a phenomenon worth considering when evaluating the effects of such educational innovations.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2019
EventThe First Utrecht Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Conference - Utrecht University, Utrecht, Netherlands
Duration: 7 Mar 20197 Mar 2019


ConferenceThe First Utrecht Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Conference
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